Rohinton Mistry’s A Fine Balance is a profusely sad book!

Rohinton Mistry’s A Fine Balance is a profusely sad book. The sadness in the circumstances of the character doesn’t stay on the pages of the novel but can be felt in the reader’s body. At least, that’s what happened to me. With great efforts to objectively look at the book, on most occasions, I drifted with the story and the circumstances drove my emotions.

Set during times of Emergency, the novel follows the journey of numerous characters from various castes, classes, and religious backgrounds. Primarily, there is a Parsi widow fighting for her independence, two Dalit tailors running away from the violence of their caste realities, and a relatively privilege young Parsi boy. Fortunately, unfortunately, they end up living in a small rented house in a city (maybe Mumbai).

The strength of the book is the slow swiftness with which the story progresses and drives each character to the end. The constant changes in the fortunes of these characters never allow the reader to fully relish the lustre of their fates. As a reader, I wanted their happiness to last longer. But, the realities of their circumstances, and pertaining emergency in the nation were bleak.

“The human face has limited space. If you fill it with laughter there will be no room for crying.”

Mistry’s world has little to no space for elites of society. While the book, in a sense, is about India’s tyrannical emergency, still Indira Gandhi (PM of that time) gets near-to zero mentions in 600 pages. Rather, Mistry’s epic brings people on the margins to the centre. There are beggars, beggar masters, a rent-collector, a hair-collector, and many more. There is a matter of fact about his characters. They are. They exist. They do what they do. And, in a way, you know they exist.

“You see, we cannot draw lines and compartments and refuse to budge beyond them. Sometimes you have to use your failures as stepping-stones to success. You have to maintain a fine balance between hope and despair.’ He paused, considering what he had just said. ‘Yes’, he repeated. ‘In the end, it’s all a question of balance.”

They all come together in a world where balance is what each one is striding for. But, in the wake of an emergency, despair becomes more prevalent than hope. Manek, a young Parsi young, questions the fairness of these circumstances. Some might say that Mistry has weaved a narrative of the human spirit. As, in the heartbreaking last few pages, the characters rejoice in the kindled bonds and friendships against some truly depressing circumstances. But, those exact moments left me miserable.

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